Unsung Heroes of HardyLand - Mike Nixon
A series celebrating the individuals who work behind the scenes to provide us with unique Hardyan experiences.
Introducing - Mike Nixon
What originally drew you to Dorset and what is it that made Dorset special for you?
What was it that first got you interested in Thomas Hardy and his writing?
Your first two questions are interlinked.
I was first drawn to Dorset because I had a very influential uncle (every child should have one!), because during the Second World War he was was evacuated from London to the holiday camp at Bowleaze Cove outside Weymouth. He was 12 years old. When I was in my teens he mentioned that Dorset had an author that wrote about the County, someone called Thomas Hardy, and recommended a book that featured, as a background, the Isle of Portland, which was called the ‘Well-Beloved’. So I started reading Hardy with arguably one of the ‘lesser’ novels. I read it and was enthralled by the concept of the book and was hooked! Over the the next couple of years I read the vast majority of the novels and have never looked back!
You have a dedication in your name among the steps of the Dorset County Museum, please tell us how this came about?
Regarding my name on the County Museum steps; I was fortunate to work with Jon Murden in my last few years at the Society, our office was based there, and I met him on a number of occasions. He impressed me from the start and he has transformed the Museum (particularly when it reopens) into one of THE museums in the country. And he did this with an energy and a vision which inspired all. I wanted to show my support very early on so when he asked for personal donations I was one of the first to do so. And, if I’m honest, I like the idea on my name on the steps for posterity!
You are an avid collector of Hardyana, please tell us about some of the prize pieces in your collection.
Of the Hardyana I have, pride of place must go to the first edition of Tess of the d'Urberilles, one of the great novels of our time, and still mentioned every time in those ubiquitous 50 greatest books lists! I also have several of Hardy’s original letters, framed and on my wall in my home. The complete uniqueness of having these continues to give me a thrill every time I see them!
How long were you a member of the Thomas Hardy Society Council of Management, and can you give us an insight into what kind of work you did for them?
I was a member of the Society Council of Management for 16 years, Secretary for that period and combining the Treasurer post (temporarily) for the last 5 years. All my memories are positive, it was always stimulating and we had a team of people who would always be there ready to give their all, particularly in the Conference years. Seven days of continues events was always a tough challenge, but the satisfaction at the end of each Conference was something to savour for all of us.
You were known as the face of the Thomas Hardy Society for many years, were there particular benefits or pitfalls to this?
I’m really not sure I was the ‘face' of the Hardy Society (!) but I know that the benefits were simply meeting and working with some of the nicest kindest people I have ever met in my life. I think the best thing that happened over the 16 years, from my point of view, was bringing together people who were proud of Hardy and were willing to work together in a supportive and coordinated way.
Finally, is there a unique Hardyan experience that you can share with us?
There have been a number of ‘unique’ experiences during my years at the Society but one gives me particular pleasure.
A few years ago I had read a report in the the Times that one of the guest speakers at the Cheltenham Literary Festival was Alan Johnson MP, who had talked about his love of Larkin and Hardy. I immediately wrote to him at the House of Commons asking if he would be our guest
at the last session of our 2014 Conference. To my surprise and pleasure he said yes! He duly appeared as arranged and gave a witty and eloquent speech explaining why he thought so much of these two very different people. As the local paper said at the time, Alan Johnson got a huge round of applause before he had said a word, such was the affection people felt for him. A rare example of a politician who appealed to everyone no matter their political opinions. A charming man.
And perhaps one other moment, was to get the (to us Hardy people) legendary Terence Stamp to our Conference in 2018. The effort required was considerable, but to have ‘Sargent Troy’ in the flesh was unforgettable to me and the many people who were there that day.